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Following the footsteps of many large grocery and general big box retailers, farm-to-table leader Whole Foods Markets (WFM) has recently embraced eco-chic. The North American retailer, which sells organic and sustainable foods, is now pushing ethical fashion into the mainstream market with T-shirts, yoga ware and other fashion products. Similar to Joe Fresh, a subsection of Canadian food distributor Loblaw Companies Ltd., Whole Foods is setting up The Lifestyle Store adjacent to its West Hollywood location.

With this announcement, WFM hopes to embrace the market of customers willing to pay higher prices for ethical clothing. Going above and beyond what other large retailers such as H&M are doing, which includes increasing wages for workers in developing countries or releasing specific ethical fashion lines, the company has made a serious investment into the ethical fashion movement.

However, a lot of questions arise from this recent news. Will organic and sustainable fashion see the growth that its food counterparts have seen over the last few years? What happens to the grass-roots or local start-ups who have toiled to bring the movement to the point it has reached thus far? Will higher prices ensure a positive sustainable impact on the lives of producers?

Will organic and sustainable fashion see the growth that its food counterparts have seen over the last few years?

Consumers are becoming more aware about the negative impact of fashion, which includes cheaper materials/quality, cheap labour that results in a lower quality of life for the producers that make the fashion, and cheaper factory overhead that results in poor working conditions. This has resulted in a desire to support ethical fashion, which has slowly begin to translate into consumer figures.

What happens to the grass-roots or local start-ups who have toiled to bring the movement to the point it has reached thus far?

The key to pushing the movement forward is the larger retailers working with the smaller, local organizations to bring ethical fashion to the mainstream market. It is only through this cohesiveness that a sustainable change will arise in the consumer market. It is a combination of small retailers and larger retailers that will encourage competition, diversity and progress in the marketplace.

Will higher prices ensure a positive sustainable impact on the lives of producers?

Ethical fashion is valued at higher prices in order to provide workers with fair wages and better working conditions, and to create fashion in an organic and environmentally-friendly way. The idea consumers may have to adjust to is choosing quality over quantity, and realizing the value in the social/environmental good that comes from ethical fashion.

Beyond these, there are a lot of questions that the success or failure of The Lifestyle Store will help determine. Will such a venture be sustainable when it comes to mass-production? Can companies such as WFM keep prices at an affordable, competitive level, while still adhering to the promises they make consumers? It will be the performance of a big box ethical fashion retailer that will truly help us understand the answers to such questions. Just like food, fashion is a perishable good and with the recent focus on fast fashion, it is more perishable than ever. Through sustainability, social responsibility and transparency, will a larger retailer such as WFM translate their mission into a success in the apparel market? Time will tell.

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